Before Pudong rose from the swampy marshlands east of the Huangpu River, Puxi was really the only option for expats. Consequently there are more international schools and more housing spread over a much larger area than Pudong.
Where to Live
If you look at a map you will see that the area is huge – Shanghai is after all a city with a population of about 22 million - and that there are several school options. Before your head starts spinning too fast, the good news is that if you are looking for a British or American based curriculum you can narrow things down a little.
Without a doubt, the top school in Puxi with an American based curriculum is the Shanghai American School (SAS) Puxi. Offering AP courses, the IB Diploma and IB certificates, SAS is generally considered to be an excellent school in all respects. Not surprisingly, the school is populated primarily by American passport holders, although culturally the school is best described as Asian/American.
Pressure to achieve
South-Koreans form a high percentage of the student body, largely because there are also Korean schools in the area. Korean families value academic success highly, often at the expense of what we would think of as a balanced lifestyle. Many Korean students attend “normal” school during the day followed by Korean school in the late afternoons and early evenings, as well as doing two sets of homework – something that would make even the most educationally zealous Western parent blanch a little.
The pressure to achieve good grades generally is enormous. An incidental side effect is that standards at the “normal” schools are often higher where there is a high percentage of Korean students. Some Western parents are extremely happy for their children to ride along on the wave of high expectations, hoping that some of the extreme work ethic will rub off on their offspring. Other parents prefer to put their children into a school that is more in tune culturally with their home country and where academic peer pressure is less intense.
The School Run
SAS Puxi (along with many of the other international schools in Puxi) is in an area called Minhang in the far south-west of the city - convenient for Hongqiao Airport, which caters for domestic flights, but not so great for Pudong Airport, which serves international flights.Journey times have been cut considerably by the new roads built for the Shanghai Expo but you would still be wise to allow about an hour to get to Pudong Airport from Minhang.
The average journey time from Minhang into the French Concession is about 40 minutes. There are many other compounds and apartments in the area, too numerous to list here and a decent relocation agent should find something to suit.
There are many large housing compounds close in Minhang, the most popular being the Shanghai Racquet Club (often called SRC), Forest Manor, Santa Fe and Westwood, all of which are within a 5 to 10 minute drive of SAS Puxi. Although many students use the efficient school bus system, some students get dropped off in cars, cycle or even walk to school.
Because there are so many housing options in Puxi, be aware your house search may take a little longer than if you were to plump for Pudong. Most people pick the school first and limit the housing search to within a fairly close radius of the school, of course taking into account the location of the workplace. It’s a juggling act but most people manage to get it more or less right.
Also close to Minhang is one of the British International School Shanghai (BISS) campuses in Puxi - BISS Puxi to distinguish it from the other BISS campus, BISS Nanxiang in the north-west of Shanghai.
It is probably fair to say that BISS Puxi is the more popular campus because of its location within the Forest Manor housing compound and its proximity to Hongqiao. BISS follows a British based curriculum (as outlined in the Overview of schools in Pudong), as does Yew Chung, which has 2 campuses in Puxi, one in Hongqiao and one in Gubei. As with the all the Yew Chung schools, classes are bilingual and offer programmes from 3 to 18 years old.
The Western International School of Shanghai (WISS) is an interesting newcomer to the international school scene in Shanghai. The only school in Shanghai to offer the IB programme throughout the whole school, it may suit parents who are looking for their children to transfer into schools in the European expat hotspots, or who are looking for a school with more of a global perspective than a bog standard National Curriculum-based education.
Like most of the international schools it offers programmes from 3 years old right up to 18. The purpose built facilities are said to be excellent and with only about 280 pupils enrolled class sizes are currently small and waiting lists not yet overloaded. WISS is in the Qingpu district of the city, about 20 minutes from Hongqiao Airport and between 10 – 20 minutes from the most popular villa compounds (SRC and the like). Time will tell if WISS lives up to its promises but definitely one to watch.
Shanghai Community International, Hongqiao and Shanghai Rego International School are the other two well known choices in Puxi. SCIS, like its sister campus in Pudong, runs an American based curriculum for 3 to 18 year olds. Shanghai Rego only has one campus in Minhang. The curriculum is based on the National Curriculum of England but, unusually, the school also offers mother-tongue programmes in five foreign languages (Mandarin, Spanish, French, German and Dutch) allowing non-native English speakers to continue studying in their home language. Not surprisingly, Shanghai Rego is a popular choice with multilingual Europeans.